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Movie review

'Bandslam': A teen-angst movie with unexpected pleasures and great soundtrack

"Bandslam" has an in-the-moment tone and emotion that is conveyed perfectly in this teen-angst movie about a band manager in the making.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review3 stars

"Bandslam,"with Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, Lisa Kudrow, Aly Michalka. Directed by Todd Graff, from a screenplay by Graff and Josh A. Cagan. 111 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild language. Several theaters; see page 17.

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An utterly charming work of pure pop exuberance, "Bandslam" is full of unexpected pleasures set to a surprisingly retro soundtrack.

One certainly doesn't go to a contemporary, teen-angst movie expecting to hear such dusted-off, pop and rock gems as Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman," the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" or Television's "See No Evil."

But those older songs actually reflect the character of the movie's sweet but troubled hero, whose regard for music history proves both fruitful for a struggling band that needs him and essential to his own emotional care.

The little-known Gaelan Connell is wonderful as Will Burton, a boy routinely victimized at his Cincinnati high school. Will finds escape by writing daily e-mails to his hero, David Bowie, little letters he uses as a thinly disguised personal journal.

Will's mother, Karen (Lisa Kudrow), moves the two of them to New Jersey, where he quickly befriends two very different girls: the laconic Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens; the "5" is silent) and the take-charge, extroverted Charlotte (Aly Michalka).

Each represents a different kind of growing-up adventure for Will, but Charlotte draws from Will's private store of rock knowledge the visionary band manager that lurks within.

The rest of the story is too much fun to give away, but "Bandslam" isn't really a story-driven film in any case. Co-writer and director Todd Graff is more interested in in-the-moment tone and emotion than narrative smoothness.

Graff has a way of turning ordinary scenes into celebrations of his characters' artistic inspiration, or of first kisses or acts of daring. In one completely unexpected moment, Will and Sa5m find their way into a padlocked and world-famous shrine of 1970s punk rock, almost visibly shaking with excitement at the lingering spirit in the place.

Graff makes sure we feel exactly what Will and the others are feeling at all times, the better to understand how such scenes are really future memories in the making for all of them.

Tom Keogh:

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